Matthew 10:5-16; 1 Samuel 25:18-35
Before you hear the story from 1 Samuel today, I want to give you some context. When reading the Bible, context is really everything. You may remember if you were here last week that David was anointed as King when he was a boy; Saul was still King at that time, so there is a waiting and preparing period. In this time, tensions are fairly high between Saul and David, as you might imagine, and as David reaches adulthood and the Israelites are quickly tiring of Saul's violence, David has many chances to kill Saul and become King-- but he doesn't do it. He refrains from taking the throne through violence. In our story this morning, however, we do not see that noble side of David. He and his men are camped out, basically in hiding from Saul. He has hundreds of troops by this time, and they are in need of provisions. So David sends word to a wealthy family nearby, at the height of the sheering season-- at the time when his wealth will seem most abundant. David sends his servants with words of peace to Nabal, the wealthy land owner and influential Calebite family. Nabal, however, is a foolish and mean man. We are told this, almost immediately, but just his name in Hebrew literally means foolish. Nabal insults David by telling his soldiers that he isn't interested in feeding rebel rousers. The soldiers report back to David, and David is enraged and promises that Nabal's family and servants will not live to see another day. In the meantime, a shepherd of Nabal's hears what is happening and runs immediately to Abigail, Nabal's wife. He shares with her how David has been protecting Nabal's sheep and the shepherds during this violent time, and lets her know David's plan. Abigail doesn't even hesitate. Instead of cowering with fear, or foolishly following her husband's lead, Abigail takes bold, courageous action.
1 Samuel 25:18-35 reads:
18 Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys 19 and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 20 As she rode on the donkey and came down under cover of the mountain, David and his men came down toward her; and she met them. 21 Now David had said, “Surely it was in vain that I protected all that this fellow has in the wilderness, so that nothing was missed of all that belonged to him; but he has returned me evil for good. 22 God do so to David and more also, if by morning I leave so much as one male of all who belong to him.”
23 When Abigail saw David, she hurried and alighted from the donkey, and fell before David on her face, bowing to the ground. 24 She fell at his feet and said, “Upon me alone, my lord, be the guilt; please let your servant speak in your ears, and hear the words of your servant. 25 My lord, do not take seriously this ill-natured fellow, Nabal; for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him; but I, your servant, did not see the young men of my lord, whom you sent.
26 “Now then, my lord, as the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, since the Lord has restrained you from bloodguilt and from taking vengeance with your own hand, now let your enemies and those who seek to do evil to my lord be like Nabal. 27 And now let this present that your servant has brought to my lord be given to the young men who follow my lord. 28 Please forgive the trespass of your servant; for the Lord will certainly make my lord a sure house, because my lord is fighting the battles of the Lord; and evil shall not be found in you so long as you live. 29 If anyone should rise up to pursue you and to seek your life, the life of my lord shall be bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God; but the lives of your enemies he shall sling out as from the hollow of a sling. 30 When the Lord has done to my lord according to all the good that he has spoken concerning you, and has appointed you prince over Israel, 31 my lord shall have no cause of grief, or pangs of conscience, for having shed blood without cause or for having saved himself. And when the Lord has dealt well with my lord, then remember your servant.”
32 David said to Abigail, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who sent you to meet me today! 33 Blessed be your good sense, and blessed be you, who have kept me today from bloodguilt and from avenging myself by my own hand! 34 For as surely as the Lord the God of Israel lives, who has restrained me from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, truly by morning there would not have been left to Nabal so much as one male.” 35 Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”
For the first time since we began our worship series on super heroes, we actually have one that fits the mold of what it is to be a superhero. Abigail takes bold, courageous action; Abigail walks right up to the one who has presupposed himself to be her enemy-- David; and, as David himself points out, Abigail speaks for God-- saving not only her husband and family and servants, but saving David. If David had wiped out a wealthy and influential Calebite family, his own shot at becoming King would've been threatened, or at least tainted. He would've brought much of the Kingdom against himself. Abigail is decisive, she walks right into danger, approaching David and his 600 soldiers, and she is eloquent. We actually cut some of her speech this morning because it was that long. And there's one other thing that Abigail does that we're not used to superheroes doing; Abigail is humble.
We're used to women being humble, of course. It may not have even seemed strange to you that Abigail would come and take responsibility for her husband's actions; it may not have even seemed culturally inappropriate even to us thousands of years later that she apologizes and asks for forgiveness. What we so often see as a sign of weakness in our culture, Abigail uses as a strength-- and not just a strength-- but it is her grace-filled way of inserting herself into this situation, as utterly dangerous as it is, that changes everything. David even admits after he hears her out, that he was about to kill her too. It is her wisdom to go as innocent as a dove and as cunning as a snake, that allowed David's defenses to go down and diffused this hostile situation. Abigail's super power? It is her courage; it is her determination; it is her quick wit and her ability to discern the situation; but it is also something we hardly ever lift up at all-- her willingness to take responsibility for the situation and put her people before her own ego.
Jesus sends his disciples out to share the good news of the Kingdom of God and as he does so, he tells them to be as cunning as serpents and as innocent as doves. They have to know what they are facing-- to be able to recognize evil in the world, but they also have to combat evil without using evil's methods.
In 2011 Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize. Leymah is a Liberian woman who was living in Liberia during the time of great civil war and she got tired of witnessing the atrocities of war year after year so she began organizing the other women around her. It started with the Christian women she knew and then she invited the Muslim women she knew, and together they began to form strategies about how to make peace happen. They knew it wouldn't work to try violence against violence-- they had seen the failure of that tactic. So they began working non-violently, setting up peace negotiations and marching. When they finally got the leaders of both sides in the same room, they surround the room; sat in that room; and anytime someone tried to leave they barred the doors and even the windows. There were reports that men were trying to climb out the windows but these women, all dressed in white, surround them and sent them back in, even threatening to take off all of their clothes if the men didn't figure out some kind of peace.
So often we trip ourselves up because of our lack of creativity. We see what is wrong and we go at it using the same weapons that we are against! You know the old adage, it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game? Well it turns out, from watching the way Jesus played the game, that if you choose to play the way the world teaches us to play, we have already lost.
There are so many countless examples from Jesus himself. The Pharisees tried to trick him and instead of tricking them back, he speaks the truth. The soldiers came to get him and when Peter pulls out his sword to defend Jesus and cuts off the soldier's ear, Jesus reaches out and heals the soldier. People mock him and shout at him and crucify him, and what does he do in return? He forgives them. This isn't by happenstance. This isn't because Jesus just had that kind of personality. When you read the Gospels you can see that Jesus is highly strategic; disciplined; creative; and he doesn't let his ego get in the way of his higher calling.
Abigail, in her own way and in her own culture, shows that same tenacity, wisdom, and humility. And she changes the whole course of not only her own family's history, but also the history of the Israelite people because in that moment she offers David a way out of his own horrible scheme.
You and I may not think that we have such noble tasks that we are called to, but who's to say?
Many of you have heard the terrible story about Asma Jama who was eating in an Applebees in Coon Rapids, talking to her friends in Swahili, when a woman yelled at her to speak in English and then broke a bottle on Asma's face. Asma said she knew how bad it was when she saw her doctor's face. What you may not know, however, is that the woman who assaulted her, has a sister. And her sister, Dawn Sahr, reached out to Asma. They corresponded a bit and then decided to meet at Storycorps (see storycorps.com) to tell their story. And in their interaction, you hear Dawn admitting that she doesn't speak to her sister anymore and Asma asking Dawn why she can't forgive her sister. You here Dawn telling Asma that she prays that Asma will be able to heal emotionally to the point where she will be able to be the carefree person she was before the assault. These two women, brought together because of a horrendous circumstance, have managed to become friends. They set aside their egos and what some might call their loyalty to family, in order to reach out to one another and find the healing that they needed and that our world desperately needs.
These are just a few stories of people having the courage to use their superpowers. How will you use yours to help heal this broken world? What situation will you be called upon so set aside your own will, and humbly follow Jesus in being as cunning as a serpent and as innocent as a dove?